MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Republicans on Saturday selected Drew McKissick to lead them for a third term as chairman, turning back a challenge from a recent transplant to the state who portrayed himself, over the current chairman, as the candidate most closely aligned with former President Donald Trump.
The vote came during a statewide gathering of delegates.
The contest to lead the state’s Republican Party in the state — where Trump’s 2016 primary victory marked a turning point in solidifying his nomination, and where support for him remained high throughout his term — had devolved into a debate over whose support for the former president was highest.
On one side was McKissick, seeking to continue leading a party that last year further strengthened its power, expanding control in the Legislature, winning back a congressional seat and securing a fourth term for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham. McKissick successfully call ed off the state’s 2020 Republican primary in favor of throwing support behind the incumbent, with McKissick saying Trump faced “no legitimate primary challenger” and had a “record of results” there.
McKissick faced three challengers, the most vocal of whom was Lin Wood, a Georgia attorney who has falsely insisted Trump actually won the 2020 election. Trump has praised Wood as doing a “good job” filing legal challenges, though Trump’s campaign has at times distanced itself from him. Dozens of lawsuits making such allegations were rejected by the courts.
Wood didn’t show up to Saturday’s confab. New to South Carolina, he has recently purchased three plantations totaling more than $16 million in Beaufort County, a coastal area south of Charleston.
During a call earlier this year with South Carolina Republicans, Wood said he sensed “dissatisfaction” with McKissick’s leadership during conversations with activists affiliated with tea party groups, saying McKissick had been described to him as a “RINO” — Republican In Name Only — and that he felt such a person was the wrong fit for the state party.
McKissick secured Trump’s endorsement early on, with the former president saying in February that McKissick had done a “great job” leading the party in the state, which, as home of the first-in-the-South presidential primaries, plays a crucial role in the nominating process.
Trump doubled down after reports of Wood’s interest in the position surfaced, again praising McKissick but making no reference to Wood. The day before Saturday’s vote, Trump issued a third endorsement, again praising McKissick’s party leadership.
Wood’s supporters have repeatedly questioned the authenticity of Trump’s endorsements, offering no evidence of them being fake.
“I still love Donald Trump,” Wood said last month, asked about Trump’s support of McKissick. “Nothing’s going to change my mind about a man who I believe is doing God’s will for this country.”
McKissick, who has laughed off the allegation he wasn’t a strong Trump supporter, said the former president asked about Wood, though didn’t name him on a phone call related to the endorsement.
“(Trump) was like, ‘Who’s this attorney guy who is running against you? Does he even live in South Carolina?’” McKissick told The Associated Press. “Then he said, ‘That’s weird,’ or something like that. It was kind of comical.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.